Work Experience At British Grove

Blog post by level 1 Audio Production student Alistair Pritchard (3rd from left).

I was invited to spend a day at British Grove Studios in London by Dave Harries when our course gained JAMES accreditation. I helped set up the new tweeters in both studios and was introduced to the various employees of the studio and was then invited to spend a whole week at the studio later on in the year.

The building has a lovely, warm and homely atmosphere with real character, made more so by the staff that work there. Owned by Mark Knopfler and managed by David Stewart, British Grove is one of the very few studios left in London who cater for orchestral recordings as well as bands. Its amazing acoustics and flexibility of live rooms and booths allow it to adapt to each client’s needs.

During my first day I worked as Assistant Engineer with Joe (Engineer) and Steve McLaughlin who’s produced various compositions for films such as Die Hard and X-Men. This involved setting up for recording piano and classical guitar (see picture below) to add to a previous orchestral recording done at Abbey Road Studios. This was to be used for an art exhibition and possibly for a film in the future. Microphone positioning/choice was a key factor during this session to get the best sound but also to piece the music together as it was a complicated composition.

On my second day, after getting to grips with my role as an Assistant Engineer and familiar with the new environment, I was to work with Rich and Jason – setting up to record an album. Later that day I was introduced to Guy Fletcher (keyboard player in Mark’s band). The recording would take place for the rest of the week in studio 1 and, during this time, Glyn Johns was mixing an album for a client with Martin (British Grove Engineer) in Studio 2. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to him and Don Was, which was really nice. I then found myself discussing work with them and made coffee throughout the week which lead to having lunch followed by some sound advice from Glyn himself.

For the recording session in studio 1 we had to use all of the booths and the live room. This consisted of many instruments being recorded all at the same time. To name a few:

Fiddle and Whistle/Flute – Neumann 67 (valve).
Drums – AKG C12s were used as overheads (also valve and very rare these days).
Vocals – A modern copy of a Telefunken 251.

Danny Cummings (percussionist) then turned up with all of his gear and by God, did he bring some drums?! We set them up and got levels with various microphones to find out which ones gave the best sound, in particular for the bass drum. The project was for a Spanish flamenco artist (cannot be named for private reasons) and was to be produced by Guy Fletcher. The musicians were part of Mark Knopfler’s folk band and friends, who I have to thank for making me very welcome and are such nice people. In total we had nine songs to record in full and straight away from hearing the first song you could see why the client had come to British Grove Studios, he was absolutely incredible as a composer of music and guitarist.

Throughout the week I learnt a lot about the hierarchy within a studio and how each level communicates with each other. Specifically to production techniques I learnt about microphone placement and some useful tips on Pro Tools. As the week came to an end working at British Grove started to feel like a norm, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and was always eager to learn but I felt like part of the team – in all honesty I was sad to go.

However, my week was still yet to be completed as David gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I stayed for the weekend too. I was then fortunate enough to meet Paul Crockford who is Mark’s manager and has a wealth of experience in the role. The following morning we were set to finish the previous day’s song which would determine whether or not we would finish on time. Later that day I was pleasantly surprised to meet Mark Knopfler himself and that was a great end to the week with the final pieces being tracked and edited.

Overall I had a brilliant time and couldn’t have asked for a better week. Thank you to all involved.

Simon Ross – BBC Introducing

Blog post by Audio Production graduate Simon Ross:

Since leaving the University of Lincoln, I have been spending time at BBC Lincolnshire as a Broadcast Assistant for a variety of shows. One of the biggest shows I am fortunate enough to now be part of is the Lincolnshire branch of the nationally recognised BBC Introducing initiative. BBC Introducing focuses on discovering and promoting unsigned artists from around the country by allocating a specific department in all of the BBC’s local radio stations.

Whilst approaching the end of my time at University, I knew I had to start finding work for when I enter “the real world”, so I utilized the potential of the Research and Development module by spending time at BBC Lincolnshire researching their BBC Introducing programme. By doing this, I got to spend time at the studios which I would have otherwise struggled to acquire. For the purpose of my study, I sat and observed what went on during the production of the programme and by doing this I was able to make myself known to those at the BBC.

After finding my way through the figurative door I was invited back to assist the BBC Introducing team, this time setting up studios to record live sessions of bands and musicians to be featured on the Sunday night programme. Before long I was asked by the programme’s presenter and producer, Tim Johns, to join him on 29th June for what would be a special one-off programme broadcasting live from SO Festival 2012 in Skegness.

Arriving at the BBC Lincolnshire studios for 12:00, a lot of the preparations were already done by Tim and other members of the team. Alongside Tim and I, we were joined by stage manager Rosie Duffield, reporter Peggy Walker and Tim’s wife Kristina. We arrived in Skegness just after 14:00 and began by setting up 3 giant “BBC” cubes on stage, hanging banners and sharing flyers round local businesses. Passes were given to all the bands, and we had our “AAA” (access all areas) passes too (ironically on BBC Radio 1 lanyards, though I didn’t complain!).

Fortunately for us, an external sound team were hired for the event, so the only technicalities that concerned us were simply broadcasting the event between 19:00 – 22:00. Our engineer, Adam, worked from an ex-army vehicle behind the stage which was fitted with a multitrack desk and radio desk. This allowed Adam to ensure the radio broadcast and PA broadcast performed to the high standards of the BBC.

The bands were left to do their sound-checks whilst we tested our connections to and from BBC Lincolnshire. Our reporter, Peggy, spoke on-air about the event throughout the day using an iPad which is now commonly used by reporters for their outside broadcasts. Broadcasting software is installed on the iPads allowing reporters to connect and speak on-air from any location at near studio quality.

Once the bands finished their sound-checks, and the BBC Introducing team had filled up on much needed fish and chips, the event launched to a crowd of around 400 people in Tower Gardens and the rest of Lincolnshire via the radio. Funnily enough, once the bands had been introduced by Tim and interviewed by Peggy backstage, we were able to simply enjoy the performances. Due to extensive prior preparations, no obstacles were encountered.

All the bands who performed originate from the Lincolnshire area, except one band who came specially from Sweden on an “exchange scheme”. East Lindsey District Council are now in the process of choosing one of the Lincolnshire bands that performed to travel and perform in Sweden later in the year. Once the broadcast ended at 22:00, a band from Denmark played the stage to the remaining crowds as we packed away the equipment we had brought with us and returned back at the BBC Lincolnshire studios for midnight.

I managed to get home to my bed shortly after 01:00 ready for my usual shift at BBC Lincolnshire the following day working for the programmes ‘Solid Gold Saturdays’ with Melvyn Prior and ‘Summer Saturdays’ with James Lobley and Maria Richmond. I will be working with BBC Introducing again from the beginning of next week, resuming the schedule of recording live sessions.

Theo Parrish on DJing, Convenience & Artistry


In this very interesting video, Theo Parrish talks about the art of DJing and the importance of being honest in your approach. The selection process should be governed by ‘what draws you in’ and then ‘careful listening should refine what you present to a wider audience’. He discusses the impact of technological developments in terms of convenience versus artistry.

Ralf Hutter and Kraftwerk

Chris Bowlby profiles Ralf Hutter, the only founding member left of the German electronic band Kraftwerk. Coming from an obscure industrial background, Kraftwerk first formed in 1970, and are now credited with being hugely influential on a host of musicians and on music of diverse types, including electronic, hip hop, house and drum and bass.
Notoriously uncommunicative with the outside world, Kraftwerk used to only have a fax machine as a point of contact at their studio though Ralf Hutter says even that has now gone.
Krafwerk have just completed a major series of concerts in New York and are promising that they will be releasing a new album “very soon” – the first in nearly a decade.

Listen to the BBC Radio 4 programme here

Producer:
John Murphy.

The Theremin

In 1929 a Russian inventor brought an electronic musical instrument to the USA.

His name was Leon Theremin, and at the time many people thought it would revolutionise music making.

He taught Lydia Kavina to play it when she was a child.

Photo: Leon Theremin and Lydia Kavina.

Listen to the BBC World Service programme:

here

Guest Speaker – Stephen Mallinder

For this month’s audio project guest lecture I was very pleased to introduce one of my musical heroes. Stephen Mallinder is a founder member of Sheffield’s Cabaret Voltaire who’s approach to music production (cut-up technique, found sounds, tape loops, experimental electronics blended with the rhythms of early American techno and house) was an enormous influence on me and informed my own approach to music making.

Stephen’s talk was both interesting and enlightening – he’s a very engaging speaker. He spoke about music production with reference to his own work and also the work of artists such as Lee Scratch Perry, Marshall Jefferson and Kraftwerk and how his music connects with art movements such as Dada and Bauhaus. Referring to his PhD thesis Movement, Modernity and The Beat, Stephen also discussed the musical connections of club culture, graphic design and film-making.

With a long and varied career in many aspects of the music industry (running a record label, live promotion and hosting a radio show in Perth, Australia), along with his academic interests, Stephen’s talk was very valuable to our students and highlighted the importance of connecting your own work to many other creative outlets and industries.

The Cabaret Voltaire fan club* sat in the front row enjoyed it too.

*middle-aged male academics from the Lincoln School of Media 🙂

Dave Harries – From Abbey Road to British Grove

I’ve just spent a very enjoyable hour or so in the company of Dave Harries. I met Dave on a visit to the accreditation body JAMES a couple of months ago when Dave asked if he could come up to Lincoln to have a look at our recording studios.

Dave has had a very interesting career in the recorded music industry starting out as a technical engineer at Abbey Road studios where he worked with Sir George Martin and Geoff Emerick and recorded the first version of Strawberry Fields Forever with The Beatles. He later worked as the Technical Director at Air Studios (recording and mixing Pink Floyd’s Meddle), then on to Air in Monserrat, Decca and is currently the Technical Consultant at Mark Knopfler’s British Grove studios. Dave has worked with The Beach Boys, Donovan and The Temptations to name but a few.

With such a trusted pair of ears giving our studios the once-over, it was great to hear Dave praise our set-up here in Lincoln and he gave me some excellent advice on how to improve the acoustic treatment of the recording areas. We also discussed work experience opportunities for our students at British Grove. With that in mind, I asked Dave for advice to students hoping to work in the recording studio world. He answered: ‘Be prepared to work all the hours that God sends and be approachable and friendly.’

Dave has kindly offered to return the favour and I’ll be visiting British Grove early in the new year. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be giving them any advice on how to improve the acoustics of their studios.